We had breakfast at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn today, and right outside are number of cars, in varying states of disrepair. Interestingly, because America and all that, the collection includes a Triumph Spitfire (an automatic?!), an Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce, and a Jaguar 420G that looks like it’s running a V8.
The dry weather helps to keep the cars in some sort of rust-free condition, but the hot sun isn’t doing them any favours. There’s also a C4 Corvette parked out front, complete with police stickers and flashing lights. It doesn’t look like it’s pulled any one over for quite a few years, though. I scan it for any parts I might want, but there aren’t any.
After breakfast, we drive a mile down a private road to the caverns. We’ve never been here before, and only found out about them by accident. The story goes that in 1927, a guy named Walter Peck is riding his horse across some land to go play poker, and at one point the horse just stops dead, and Walter nearly falls off. He gets off to find a huge hole in the ground. It’s pouring with rain, and he can’t understand why the hole isn’t filling up.
There’s a good reason for that – the caverns are freaking enormous, in places 200 metres across. Walter buys all the land for 18 cents an acre, deciding he’s going to find gold, silver and diamonds. He doesn’t, so instead he does this thing called “Dope on a rope”, where for 25 cents he will lower you into the caverns while you hold on to a rope, but he does give you a lantern and spare matches. This might be an OSH hazard. After a while, a ramp is built to go down way underground for tourists, and now there’s even an elevator to take you down 210 feet underground.
If you want to, there’s even accommodation at 220 feet below the surface, with your ‘room’ 200 feet wide by 400 feet long and a ceiling that’s 70 feet above you. We do the long tour – 50 minutes – and Dino, our guide, tells us that it’s a steady 53 degrees down here, day in day out. It’s a welcome respite from the heat outside. We get the full tour of the caverns, including a mummified bobcat called Bob, and for $20 the cavern tour is excellent value. This includes going past the accommodation too. Totally recommend a stop in here, as it’s only an hour long and is well worthwhile.
Moving on from the caverns, we hit the road to Seligman. This is a town we’ve been to a few time before, and one of the first to really embrace the whole Route 66 revival. You can tell this by the number of shops in the small town selling Route 66 memorabilia; it’s everywhere. Of course we buy some, and take time to check out the other stuff they have that’s not for sale. Good to see the Austin Healey in one of the shops that I spotted 3 years ago when we came through here in our Dodge Challenger. I don’t think that Healey is ever going to see the light of day again.
Driving on from Seligman, we turned off the main road to follow the old Route 66 to the ‘town’ of Crookton. There isn’t much here but a few houses, and a deserted gas station – one of what feels like hundreds we will see on this trip. We got a photo with our Challenger here in 2016, and I couldn’t resist doing the same thing again with the Corvette.
We got forced back on to the I40 interstate, and at last got to a 75mp/h speed limit – 120km/h. We made the most of this, and before long we took an off-ramp and headed into the small town of Ashfork, another town that Route 66 travellers used to go through. It’s pretty quiet here, but we go to check out the museum anyway. Driving through the town I spotted this derelict Ford Thunderbird. Every single town we drive through I see wrecks like this out on the road, or in people’s back yards. It feels like a real-life barn find, without the barn.
Mid-afternoon we got to the thriving Route 66 town of Williams. This town does so much better than the others, since it’s the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (GC). Tomorrow we’ll be taking a train to the GC, the first time we’ve done that. I’m looking forward to having a break from driving, and comparing it to the West Rim that we were at a few days ago.
We’re off to the Grand Canyon again today, but this time it will be the South Rim. We last went to the South Rim in 2007, and this time we’d be doing it a little differently, instead of driving there, we’re boarding the Grand Canyon Railroad for a 2-hour ride to get to the GC. There’s a few reasons for this; it means I get a break from driving, and also the railway goes to places where there is no road, so we’d be seeing scenery that we’ve never seen before.
It cost us around US$200 for the return trip. On the way there, we’d be in the cheapest carriage (Coach) and on the way back, the next level up of Pullman Class. Sounds very fancy. We wandered to the train station after breakfast – Williams is so small, you can pretty much walk everywhere – and waited to board. The train is much longer than you’d think it would be – guessing around 8 carriages, and most of them at least half full. I can imagine in the peak season it would be chocka full.
Each carriage gets its own staff member to entertain you, as well as giving you instructions on where to go and do things at the GC, and what you shouldn’t do. Taking a selfie while walking backwards towards the edge was a good example. A few months ago, a tourist did just this and fell to her death.
On that, the last time we went to the GC, we bought a book called, “Death in the Grand Canyon”, which lists out all the people who have died there, and how they died. It’s sobering reading. I still remember one horrific (true) story of a man who wanted to surprise his daughter, so he pretended to jump over the edge, lost his footing and fell to his death. There are many more stories like that, and we notice there’s a new edition of the book out, which includes all the new deaths at the GC since 2007. What is wrong with people?
Anyway, we’re on the train, and I think we scored the funniest, well, Conductor I guess. He had everyone laughing, making fun of people but also pointing out things we should look out to see as we travelled the 60-odd miles to the GC from Williams. Sure, it was scripted, but he did it well.
An entertainer came along at one point, sang a few songs while playing his guitar, and made fun of people too. All in fun though. As we climbed higher and higher, the scenery started to change, from flat, featureless plains to hillier countryside with thousands of Ponderosa Pine trees.
At last we made it to the GC at 11.30, and we’d need to be back by 3.15 to get on board the train. We’d already been warned that the train will leave without us, and the taxi fare to get back to Williams is US$160. Ouch. The Conductors tells us that two weeks earlier, one passenger was busy on his phone on board the train, talking to his wife who was not going to make it back in time. $160 later, they got back to Williams.
We had a map, and had already decided how far we could go without running out of time, and that basically meant staying in the same area, but moving about the buildings and walking along the edge of the rim. It is a stunning place to be – different from the West Rim we were at the other day, and just as breath-taking. Did we see people doing stupid things? Of course we did, natural selection and all that.
We went into a few shops, as you have to pass through some of them to get to excellent vantage points (of course), and while the views are amazing and the whole place reeking of majesty, since we were here last it’s gone very commercial. It felt like everything was there to get money off us. The Grand Canyon is a National Park, but boy the commercial operators there are doing their best to extract every tourist dollar they can. Sure, that’s their job, but it felt overboard. I went to buy a simple sandwich at the Fountain food stop. US$7.50 for something that didn’t look appetising at all. I stuck with a $2.75 pretzel instead. I can get a whole meal with coffee for $7.50, at a diner.
All too quickly, it was time to head back to the train, this time to Pullman Class. We didn’t get to walk past people in the cheap seats, but instead boarded directly onto the Pullman Class carriage. Not quite what I expected, for the extra money we got opening windows with shades. That was pretty much the difference. We had a new conductor in this carriage, a woman originally from Wisconsin, who wasn’t as funny as our first one, but still did well. She must get sick of saying the same things, day in day out.
One the way back, we did get ‘robbed’ after the train was forced to stop. Cowboys complete with bandanas and pistols boarded the train, and held us all to ransom. Or we just gave them money, I think that was pretty much the plan all along. It was fun, they made a few jokes and then made off with our hard-earned cash.
It’s sort of cruisy day today, we’re leaving Williams and heading to Flagstaff for breakfast, then south to Phoenix for a few days at my cousin’s house. I’ve had some parcels delivered there, including the new head unit, so I’ve set aside at least one day to get some work done on the car.
We leave Williams and it’s a nice 19 degrees Celsius. It feels so much better outside than it has been, but then we’re pretty high up so chiller temperatures are to be expected.
Eventually we hit the road to Phoenix, and the temperature outside climbs more and more…until it hits 38 degrees – double what it was when we left Williams this morning.
On the way to southern Phoenix, we stop in at Tom and his wife Jane’s house. I ‘met’ Tom through the Corvette Forum website, and he kindly suggests I stop in there on the way past, and we spend a few minutes checking out the pinking noise the engine is making occasionally. My wife rolls her eyes at this ‘five-minute job’ but agrees, it’s a pretty generous offer, especially since we’ve never met Tom or Jane.
We get to the town of Gilbert on the northern side of Phoenix, and spend some time chatting while the car’s engine cools down. It’s 38 degrees outside, and feels hotter in Tom’s garage, so it doesn’t really seem to cool down at all. Tom and I check the timing, and find that it’s 2 degrees retarded. Really, advancing it will only produce more pinking, but we adjust the timing anyway, and I take it for a test drive around the block. Tom is 6 foot 8, so he can’t even fit in the car. He has a C3 Corvette, and he fits in that okay.
But the car is the same. We try different things, throw around different ideas but in the end the problem beats us. It’s now around 5pm, and we’ve been at the house for nearly 3 hours. Not quite the 5-minute job I had thought it would be. Jane graciously asks us if we want to head out to dinner with them, since it would be a crazy idea to get anywhere near the interstate at this time, and we agree. We head off to Joe’s Real BBQ in Gilbert township. It’s Wednesday night, but the place is almost packed, and the smells coming out of the kitchen make my stomach rumble.
The reason Joe’s Real BBQ is packed – the food is excellent. It’s a real come-as-you-are restaurant, and worthy of a visit if you as passing through Phoenix.
We get to my cousin’s house at 9pm, and it’s still 35 degrees. Welcome to Phoenix!
It’s a working-on-the-car day today. I have an ambitious plans of:
- Installing the new head unit
- Installing the reversing camera
- Replacing the O2 sensor
- Replacing the wiper blades
- Fixing the drooping headlining
- Replacing the rear hatch struts.
With a whole day set aside for car stuff, I’m feeling I might get most of this list done.
First off, I went to get the new head unit in, as then I can get started on the reversing camera. After watching a You Tube video, I remove 5 screws to pull off the facia plate. The plate comes off easily, and the ‘old’ single DIN Kenwood stereo with it. Five-minute job! The Kenwood that was in the car is a modern one, with Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio capability. But I really want Apple CarPlay, so we can use GPS more easily, and also the single DIN stereo in that double DIN slot looks terrible.
After removing the Kenwood from the facia plate, I’m feeling pretty good. If I can get the new stereo in in say an hour, I’m on track. Then I have a look at the wiring that’s behind it all. For less than $20, you can buy a connection kit that joins the Corvette wiring loom by way of a plug, then the other end is the wires you need to connect to your new head unit. So simple. But no…the previous owner who put the head unit in, cut the wires away from the blocks and then crimp connected them to the head unit. I mark the wires anyway, but it does mean more time, where I could have just joined onto a connection kit.
I’ve purchased a Metra mounting kit; it comes with all sorts of stuff, but all I’m after are the two plastic mounting plates that are made for my year of Corvette. I screw them onto the new Sony head unit, then do a test-mount. It looks good, and I won’t need to cut anything. The only drawback is that the previous owner also cut away at the facia plate to get the new head unit in, and now you can see those gaps either side of the new one. I can easily buy a new facia plate for $50, so that will be added to the must-buy list.
Before screwing the head unit in place, I need to sort out the wiring. Joining the speakers up should be painless, but I’m working inside my cousin’s garage in Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s 35 degrees inside the garage. I have two huge fans cranked up, but still I’m sweating and the wires keep slipping through my fingers as I’m joining them. Argh. Regardless, I get them hooked up, and then the trouble started. As usual, there’s a wire from the head unit for a constant 12-volt feed, and then the second wire that hooks into the accessory circuit, so the stereo only comes on with the key.
The next 4 hours (I wish I was joking) was spent pulling more and more of the car apart, searching for a wire that would give me 12 volts on accessory position on the key, or even with key on. It’s stinking hot, I’m sweating like a pig and now I’m crawling around under the steering wheel where there’s no room at all, and half the interior is now laying on the floor of the garage, along with assorted screws. Not fun.
I gave up at this point, and resorted to using the forums at www.corvetteforum.com/forums and ask the question; while all the Googling in the world says the accessory wire should be orange, why I don’t have an orange wire? Not helping is that I don’t have a 12-volt tester, so I’m using a method of just seeing if the head unit turns on when I use a short piece of wire to hook into a plug. Anyway, within minutes someone replies and says use pink/black. Bingo. I find one under the steering wheel, and it works.
At this point, I started to put the car back together. It’s 4pm, and I’ve been on this since 930. But the feeling of actually getting somewhere keeps me moving, even if my arms and back are aching, and I’ve got cuts and scratches on my hands. It all goes back together nicely, and I flag attempting to put the reversing camera in. Too tired to do more wiring, and really I’m over it for the day.
I do put the new struts in for the hatchback glass, but another problem. I’ve purchased some that are supposed to have the connectors for the heated rear window, but they send me ones that don’t. I stick them in anyway, and I’ll have to get them to send the correct ones.
There’s just enough energy for me to replace the O2 sensor. The car has been pinking a little too much for my liking. Possibly it’s the altitude, but again the Corvette forums suggest replacing the O2 sensor to see if it resolves it. First thing this morning I popped into O’Reilly auto parts and picked up a new one for $20, and also borrowed their O2 sensor removal tool (for free). Finally, something that actually goes the way I planned. In less than 15 minutes, I’ve got the new O2 sensor in place.
With some success, I push on to replace the wiper blades, last job I can cope with. These were purchased from an O’Reillys in Los Angeles, and was told they were the right ones for the car. They aren’t. Sure, they go onto the arms, but they hit the bonnet, and there’s no way they are going to work. I shoot back to the local O’Riellys to take the O2 sensor tool back, and the wiper blades. The guy there takes me to a shelf, and hands me another set. “I bet you a million dollars, these will work,” he says. We go out to the car, and they don’t fit. Same problem – hitting the bonnet. I should have taken that bet. The guy goes out the back of the store, and returns with some blades by themselves – and that’s it. This is all I needed anyway, so I’ll fit them tomorrow, and also fix the headlining.
The drive back to the house doesn’t seem to produce any pinking at all, but the real test will be when the car is loaded up. So far though, it’s looking good.
The reversing camera? Mentally, I’m not prepared to have another go at that one tomorrow. I tried to install it in LA, but gave up. I have a garage to use now, but after today’s efforts, I’m struggling to find the inclination to get all sweaty again. We’ll see.
Another day working on the car today, or hopefully much less than a day. My body is no longer a temple, as I get aches from all muscles after yesterday’s workout, under the dash.
Today should be much easier; I pull the removable top off the car to fix the headliner. It’s sagging down right across it, and rubs on my head while I’m driving and looks terrible. I manage to get the headliner off in ten minutes, then spend ten more scraping off the old glue, and vacuuming it up. Then I used a can of spray glue to coat the foam, press the headliner back in and tuck it into the sides. This was all done in less than half an hour, so after yesterday’s marathon, I’m feeling pretty good. I get the new wiper blades trimmed down to size, and even vacuum the car and clean the windows.
Then I get a message from Tom, from the Corvette Forum. He suggests we really should have changed the spark plugs, to see if that fixes the pinking. I had thought about that the other day too, but looking at the spark plugs put me off; one bank looks impossible to get to. Since the engine would be far too hot if I drove to Tom’s house again, so incredibly he says he’ll drive the 50 miles to where we are staying (yes, Phoenix is bloody enormous) and bring all the tools we need.
Tom arrives early afternoon, and we start to pull the spark plugs on the left bank – the easy ones. They look ancient, and possibly original, and one has some carbon build up, which could contribute to the pinking. We decide to head off to get new plugs, thereby putting off the ugly job of pulling the plugs on the right hand bank. Another visit to O’Riellys auto parts, and surprise, they don’t carry them in stock for my car. Not to worry he says, pay for them now and you can drive the ten minutes to the warehouse and pick them up from there. It sounds like a plan, and I pay for the plugs, but hitting the interstate to get to the warehouse is a nightmare. It’s only 2pm, but traffic is already building up. We get back to the house in 30 minutes, then while Tom gaps and installs the new plugs on the left bank, I tackle the right bank.
After 20 minutes, I managed to remove the spark plug leads, which were hard enough by themselves. I soldier on, and pull the first plug, then am stumped. The only way to move onwards is to remove the centre plastic wheel well cover. This is only 6 bolts, and allows me to pull the second plug. I ignore the third plug – it’s right behind the header – and move to the fourth plug in the bank. This one was actually the easiest, and takes only a few minutes to get out. But that third plug…not going anywhere. I ended up pulling off the wheel arch cover that’s on the rear of the front wheel as well, and manage to get the spark plug socket and ratchet in there, but it’s not going anywhere, still the wrong angle.
Tom suggests that we pop along to the O’Riellys (again!) and but a flexible head for the extension bar, as this is something he didn’t bring with him, and he feels confident it will work. I’m not so sure, but I know leaving one spark plug out would drive me crazy. So we head back again to O’Riellys – I’m almost on first-name terms now – and buy a flexible head, and go back to the house.
This helps, but it feels like the spark plug has been torqued up to 100lbs in the alloy head. Then the noise came. A crack, that didn’t sound good. Yup, insulator broken, so no choice now, the plug has to come out. With a lot more brute force, I get the plug out.
Thankfully, it was only 45 minutes or so to get all the plugs back in – with some thread grease on them to make them easier next time. Everything is put back on the car, and a drive down the road and it feels like a new car. It has a lot more get up and go, and is smoother too. Should have replaced them in LA. The pinking seems to have stopped now, so that’s a bonus, and it’s good piece of mind knowing all the plugs are new.
That’s it for today, my body aching worse than ever. Time for a beer.
We had great plans to get away early from Phoenix today, but it didn’t happen. It was 9am when we left, so that’s not too bad. 28 degrees outside, as we headed towards the I40 and then the I17, to retrace our route we took to get to Phoenix three days ago.
We start the climb from the 1,000 feet above sea level that Phoenix is, and will end up 7,000 feet up when we get to Flagstaff. This will be a good test of the Corvette’s cooling system. Halfway, we stop off at Rock Springs Café, which is famous for its pies. Not meat pies, but dessert pies. The café has been running since 1918, so we’re pretty sure they have their pies sorted out, and it turns out, they have. We grab an apple and rhubarb slice, and it’s delicious. The car park is pretty full; this seems to be a well-known venue.
The drive goes on, up and up. In two hours, we get to Flagstaff, and turn right to head east towards Albuquerque. The speed limit has been 75mp/h pretty much all the way, and it will stay at that all day, and the temperature is now down to a nice 20 degrees. The car’s cooling system has coped just fine, and barely raised above halfway up the gauge. True to the Route 66 song, we don’t forget Winona, and pull off the interstate to see what all the fuss is about. There’s not a lot to see in Winona; a few houses scattered about, and a single gas station. We grab some cold water from the Shell, and also get a free ‘Don’t forget Winona’ sticker. Winona hasn’t quite cashed in on the song lyrics of Route 66 yet. We’ll be getting to Winslow soon, we’ve been there before and that town totally milks the lyrics of Take It Easy.
Back on the interstate we go, and shoot through to Winslow. Do we play Take It Easy as we roll into town? Of course we do – it’s a local law I think. While Winona was a bit of a ghost town, Winslow is the opposite. There are people standing on a corner next to a flat deck Ford, the cafes are busy, and the Route 66 souvenir shops are pumping.
Avoiding the Route 66 sorts of diners, we walk up the road to a café the locals use, the Brown Mug Café. We’re sold as soon as we walk in the door, as we are asked if we want coffee. We’re the only tourists in the café, so yes, this will do for lunch. Although, there is a plaque on the wall thanking the café for its support of the local baseball team…in 1988. Sometimes I think there should be a law on just how long you can keep something like this on the wall…
Hitting the road again, we do the 30-minute drive to Holbrook, still in Arizona. We’ve been through here a few times before. This time we’re tempted to stay at the Wigwam Motel, but can’t quite bring ourselves to do it. Instead, we stay right across the road at the Globetrotter Motel, still right on Route 66.
Just saw an ad for the new Chrysler Pacifica people mover on TV, while writing this. The Pacifica comes complete with a built-in vacuum cleaner. Not sure where they can go to from here…add in a coffee maker?
Breakfast at the Globetrotter was great – actual scrambled eggs made hot for us (not powdered), real jams, and they even had a little New Zealand flag on the table, just for us. Little things, but much appreciated.
This is a longish drive day to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This will be our third state to visit. Leaving Holbrook was easy enough, and within 30 minutes we were at our first stop, the Petrified Forest. There was a ‘museum’ just inside the turnoff, so we pulled in to check the museum out and use their restrooms. Hmmm. The museum consists of one wall about 20 feet long with some old Native American baskets inside display cases, and a few other trinkets. The rest of the huge place was simply a shop. The toilets were both shut off for use. We didn’t spend long there – not recommended at all.
This is a national park, so it’s $20 for a car to get inside the park gates, when you go past the first ‘museum’. It’s a beautiful place, and is a must-see destination. There is petrified wood everywhere you look, as well as stunning vistas. We stopped in at the official visitor’s centre, and checked out the movie showing (well worth it) and read some of the info. Then it was off behind the visitor’s centre to walk around some of the petrified wood, and read the supplied info. It was ‘only’ 25 degrees outside, so was easily bearable.
From there, we continued through the park in the car. It’s a nicely sealed road, with a 45mp/h speed limit. Since it was Sunday and still early, we barely saw another car. Next stop was the ‘agate bridge’ – a huge tree that had fallen, been petrified and was walked on by the visitors of the 1930s. You can’t walk on it now, but it was cool to see it, and the huge expanse of landscape behind it.
Next stop was some petroglyphs, that you weren’t allowed to go up to, but could use the binoculars to look at them. It was like being right in front of them, and since the stop was ten seconds off the main road, worthy of a look. It was here we saw some crows; huge birds, with big menacing-looking beaks. One sat on top of a sign, and was not afraid of us in the slightest. Scary birds.
After that, we headed to the Painted Desert. Another stunning place, with incredible variations of colours to be seen. An amazing natural beauty to witness. For our $20, you get to see sights you aren’t going to see anywhere else in the world, and apparently the Petrified Forest is the largest in the world. From one of the vantage points on the Painted Desert, you can see 108 miles (!) into the distance.
Further along the road from the Painted Desert is a slice of the original Route 66. This is the only national park to actually have some of it left inside the park. Okay, there’s not a lot to see, but it’s there. We were here last in 2007 and there was only a bumper off a ’59 Caddy, but now they’ve added a 1936 (?) Dodge to add some history to the site.
It was time to get back on to the I40 interstate, set the cruise control at 75mp/h (or thereabouts) and head to Gallup, New Mexico. At last we’d be hitting another state. I’ve got to say, we were a bit disappointed with Gallup. For some reason, we both thought it’d be lit up like Seligman, and cashing in on all the people going to the old Route 66 towns. Not so. We simply drove along for mile after mile, seeing very little memorabilia. We did spot a Route 66 diner, but it was shut.
Incredibly, just off the interstate is the Continental Divide. It’s a point where water either flows to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. It’s a little weird to just stand there, and imagine water on one side flowing into a different ocean than water on the other side.
After Gallup, back on the interstate. At one point, we pulled into a Love’s Truck Stop to get some coffee, and there gassing up was an ancient motorhome, totally decked out like something out of The Walking Dead. Three girls were driving the RV to Edwards, California to Wasteland Weekend, a huge post-apocalyptic festival that happens every year. And that isn’t a wrap on their RV – they pretty much just started throwing paint at it.
Back on the interstate again, and finally I see the signs I’ve been waiting for. “Minimum speed left lane, 65mp/h”. So if you are in the ‘fast’ lane, do at least 65mp/h or move over. We also see “Keep right unless passing” signs every mile or two. If only New Zealand drivers could read signs. After a few more hours of steady 75mp/h, we arrived in Albuquerque, for the night. Tomorrow it’s 4 hours’ driving to Amarillo, but there’ll be more stops along the way, no doubt. My only hope is that my wife doesn’t buy too much more stuff. My vision out the back window of the Corvette is getting smaller and smaller…